What is Childhood Obesity?
Obesity is a growing crisis in the United States. As people consume more high fat, sugary, and caloric foods, and live increasingly sedentary lifestyles, we see a rise in obesity among children and teens than ever before. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 5 children between the ages of 6 to 19 had obesity in 2015-2016. This rate nearly tripled from the 1970’s!
Childhood obesity occurs when a child is well above a normal and/or healthy weight for their age and height. It is commonly caused by genetics and behaviors that influence excessive weight gain, which may include:
- Consuming high-calorie, low-nutrient food and beverages
- Increased portion sizes
- Poor sleep habits
- Low physical activity
- Excessive sedentary activities (TV, computers, video games, phones)
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made physical activity even more challenging. A study in 2020 showed that short-term changes in physical activity and sedentary behaviors by the pandemic were linked to increased obesity in children. While staying home is helping to slow the spread of the virus, people are no longer moving around as much as they used to, especially children who got their physical activity through outdoor playtime, recess, and/or gym class. As many schools become virtual, children are spending more time at their desks learning from a computer screen.
Is my Child Considered Overweight/Obese?
Body mass index (BMI) is a common tool that determines childhood overweight or obesity by using your weight and height. To be considered overweight, your BMI must be at or above the 85th percentile and below the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex. Keep in mind that BMI does not measure body fat directly, so consult with an expert on more accurate measures of body fat.
Why should I be concerned?
Addressing childhood obesity is important for reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and cancer. It also reduces the risk of developing low self-esteem, body image issues, and loneliness/depression. Furthermore, you can reduce your risk of musculoskeletal pain, joint dysfunction, and bone fractures associated with obesity, which may include:
- Hip pain: A condition called Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis (SCFE) can arise from obesity. This occurs when the head of the femur (thigh bone) slips off in a backward direction due to weakness of the growth plate. It can lead to prolonged hip and knee pain, intermittent limp, and sometimes inability to bear weight on the affected leg.
- Knee pain: Structural changes/deformities can occur in the knee from obesity. Studies have shown that the knees can shift towards genu valgum (“knock- knee”) or genu recurvatum (knee hyperextension) resulting in knee pain.
Being sedentary at your desk or couch can also predispose your child to poor body posture and increased pain, which could include:
- Headaches: Occurs if your chair is not the right height for your body, or if the screen is too far away from your eyes. As you reach forwards to get a closer look at the screen, you add stress and tension to the muscles and joints of your head and neck. Mild headache and upper neck tightness can quickly develop into cervicogenic headaches, tension headaches, and even jaw pain and tightness.
- Neck pain: Develops from tightness in the joints or muscle caused by poor posture or incorrect placement of your computer in relationship to your body. If left untreated, your neck tightness may begin to compress nerves and cause radiculopathy. This condition can lead to numbness and tingling into your hands, making treatment longer and more challenging.
- Shoulder pain: Occurs if your keyboard or mouse are too far away from your body or you have the tendency to round your back while sitting. This posture compresses the tendons of your rotator cuff, creating pain anytime you move your shoulders. If left untreated, it could lead to impingement syndrome of the shoulder, which causes constant inflammation, irritation, and potential tears to your rotator cuff tendons.
- Low back pain: Many people often assume that this is simply a sign of aging. However, sitting in an uncomfortable chair for prolonged periods of time can cause increased stress to your low back. As low back pain develops, you may notice tightness in your back and hips. A quick modification of your chair and exercises for your hips and back can help stop your symptoms from progressing. But when left untreated, sciatica can develop causing symptoms down one or both of your legs. This shooting, nagging pain, along with numbness and tingling, create a longer road to recovery.
If your child is having one of these issues, physical therapy is very helpful in correcting muscle imbalances and getting your child out of pain. Our Huntingdon Valley physical therapists have many years of experience in treating such problems with great success.
What can I do to help my child combat it?
Fortunately, childhood obesity is manageable with the right knowledge and resources. See the Do’s and Don’ts chart below to see what you can do to combat childhood obesity: